Background: There is increasing evidence suggesting that development of progressive canine cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) rupture involves a gradual degeneration of the CCL itself, initiated by a combination of factors, ranging from mechanical to biochemical. To date, knowledge is lacking to what extent cruciate disease results from abnormal biomechanics on a normal ligament or contrary how far preliminary alterations of the ligament due to biochemical factors provoke abnormal biomechanics. This study is focused on nitric oxide (NO), one of the potential biochemical factors. The NO-donor sodium nitroprusside (SNP) has been used to study NO-dependent cell death in canine cranial and caudal cruciate ligament cells and to characterize signaling mechanisms during NO-stimulation. Results: Sodium nitroprusside increased apoptotic cell death dose- and time-dependently in cruciate ligamentocytes. Cells from the CCL were more susceptible to apoptosis than CaCL cells. Caspase-3 processing in response to SNP was not detected. Testing major upstream and signal transducing pathways, NO-induced cruciate ligament cell death seemed to be mediated on different levels. Specific inhibition of tyrosine kinase significantly decreased SNP-induced cell death. Mitogen activated protein kinase ERK1 and 2 are activated upon NO and provide anti-apoptotic signals whereas p38 kinase and protein kinase C are not involved. Moreover, data showed that the inhibition reactive oxygen species (ROS) significantly reduced the level of cruciate ligament cell death. Conclusions: Our data support the hypothesis that canine cruciate ligamentocytes, independently from their origin (CCL or CaCL) follow crucial signaling pathways involved in NO-induced cell death. However, the difference on susceptibility upon NO-mediated apoptosis seems to be dependent on other pathways than on these tested in the present study. In both, CCL and CaCL, the activation of the tyrosine kinase and the generation of ROS reveal important signaling pathways. In perspective, new efforts to prevent the development and progression of cruciate disease may include strategies aimed at reducing ROS.